Advent Stories: The Shepherd

And sometimes I look for serious pictures of shepherds and realize this guy is my favorite anyway.

And sometimes I look for serious pictures of shepherds and realize this guy is my favorite anyway.

What do you mean I don’t know what I’m talking about? Listen, I’ve got big news here, okay? Just because I’m a shepherd, you think you can just ignore this? David was a shepherd, you know. Lived right here in Bethlehem, and he grew up to be the greatest king we ever had.

Amos the prophet was a shepherd. Yeah. Do I know what he prophesied about? Not a clue. Past the “Thus sayeth the Lord” part, all those guys run together for me. But he heard things from God and spoke ‘em loud. That’s what matters.

Jacob and his kids—the tribes of Israel, you might have heard of them—were shepherds too. Joseph gave them land in Egypt when he was king of the world and stuff, and they took their livestock and worked as shepherds.

And then the Egyptians made them slaves. So…not the best example.

Anyway, it’s a profession with a long and noble history.

Except mostly, nothing happens.

Oh, there are the other shepherds. We light a fire and drink a little and tell true stories about things that never actually happened.

But after the stories end, there’s just darkness and quiet and plenty of time to think over everything you’ve ever been afraid of. It’s enough to make you wish for a good, old-fashioned lion attack.

On the irritating nights when the others are getting on your last nerve, you think, “No wonder Judah sold his brother into slavery. If a caravan came by right now, I’d put everyone here up for bid.”

On the boring nights, you think, “No wonder Amos talked so much about judgment. At least that livened things up a bit.”

And on the lonely nights, you think, “No wonder David wrote all those Psalms. There was no one for him to talk to but God.”

But who am I kidding? I hardly ever talk to God, even though the rabbis say I should. The rabbis shouting their Torah over the sound of the Romans tramping us down, holding us hostage in our own country. Their talk of a Messiah, a deliverer, sounds a little crazy when you can barely scrape together the money to buy taxes.

Yes, sir, the three constants in life: death, taxes, and the smell of sheep that never comes out of your clothes, no matter how much you wash.

Except last night was different. Last night, we were sitting there, watching the grass grow, waiting for something, anything to happen. And something did.

All of a sudden, right in front of our faces, BAM. An angel. A real, actual angel.

I screamed like a little girl. I dare you to say you wouldn’t do the same thing if a giant heavenly warrior appeared out of nowhere in front of you. Yeah, that’s what I thought.

The angel said, “Fear not”—thanks, I’ll get right on that—“for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

And then there were more of them. Hundreds, thousands, filling the hills like a random pop-up choir and singing “Glory to God in the highest” and “Peace on earth.”

Then they were gone. And we all looked at each other for a little while. Once we double-checked that we weren’t dreaming, or drunk, or crazy—that one took a little while to settle…if you knew some of the guys, you’d understand—we went looking for the baby.

We found him in a stable near one of the inns, crammed with animals that smelled even worse than we did, so we didn’t feel too bad about crowding around. Joseph—that was the man’s name—looked like he was going to kick us out, but Mary handled everything pretty well for a new mom. Apparently the whole angel-appearing-with-a-divine-message thing was normal to them by that point.

And the baby, Jesus. For all those impressive titles the angels gave him, he didn’t look different from any other baby. Sort of. But it’s like when you hold your own first kid, and you know in your head that he’s the same red, hollering baby as any other newborn. But you look at him…and he’s beautiful. He’s special. You know it somewhere deep down in you.

This was kind of like that, only stronger. When I looked at that baby, I believed everything the angels said, and some of what the rabbis have been saying, too. That maybe God does care, after all…and this baby will be a sign for us. For all of us.

I’m no patriarch, but I’m starting something new, right here, right now. I’m no prophet, but I’ve got something from God to tell you. I’m no king, but I met one last night. And he was a scrawny little baby whose hollering could almost drown out the angel army that sang his birthday announcement.

Does that sound crazy to you? You’ve been listening to the rabbis too much…or not enough. They always said a king would come. We just got it in our heads that we knew how he’d come: sword drawn and up on a horse, light shining all around him. He’d have a king’s royal robes and a prophet’s booming voice and a patriarch’s stately beard.

But what if that was never the plan? Deliverers have to start somewhere. Why not born to a poor family stuck in a barn because tax season filled up all the inns?

If “Why not?” isn’t good enough for you, then here’s a why: because it makes a better story.

And now it’s my story, because I was there. And I’m going to tell it. The Messiah is here, and his name is Jesus, and you know who were the first people to see him? Shepherds, that’s who.

Glory

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